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Cable's 'tru2way' Play

LAS VEGAS -- CES -- As of 6 a.m. local time, we're still awaiting official word from CableLabs about what has amounted to one of the worst kept secrets in the industry -- that the OpenCable Platform has been re-branded as "tru2way."

Following a report that leaked word about the name change last month, followed by the free use of the term Monday by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) in conjunction with the intro of a portable digital video recorder/set-top combo, an official release from CableLabs almost seems unnecessary. But we're pretty sure it's coming soon. (See Comcast, Panasonic Unveil Portable DVR .)

But what does it all mean?

The OpenCable Platform, now tru2way, aims to create device portability on the cable network and serve as a gateway to a retail market for digital cable set-tops as well as advanced digital televisions that can authorize and serve up cable's best stuff (including video-on-demand) without the need for a cable box. While tru2way requires plenty of new gear in the headend, in the home it's partly enabled with specified middleware and the removable CableCARD security element.

Expect MSOs and their set-top and TV partners to talk up tru2way to the hilt all week here at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), this being the first year that the cable industry's presence is more than just a sideshow.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, scheduled to deliver the Tuesday morning keynote here, told the Associated Press that the MSO plans to deploy tru2way across the board by the end of 2008.

And there's good reason for such a strong commitment in such a short timeframe. It could allow cable to head off a competing platform at the pass.

Recall that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) , which runs this annual gadget-fest, is pushing for a different two-way platform called DCR Plus. Because the cable industry and the CEA continue to bump heads on building a two-way consensus, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping in to rule on the matter, and could force cable to support both platforms, which is sure to give cable engineers and MSO bean counters more than an Excedrin-sized headache. (See Brenner Defends OpenCable and Two-Way Battle Reaches FCC.)

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett summed it up in the AP story: "They [cable operators] don't have a lot of friends at the FCC right now. The cable industry has every reason to be nervous. I suspect a lot of this is trying to beat the FCC to the punch."

And back to the name itself. While tru2way conjures up the idea of interactivity, it's also devoid of the word "cable," thus partly disassociating it from the cable industry.

Not that it will fool the CEA or anything.

On the CES floor this week, I'll keep a private tally of products and/or booth documentation that mentions tru2way or DCR Plus. I'll let you know how it turns out.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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